Tricounty News

This Facebook phenomenon

Blame it on our cave-man ancestors, if you want. After all, they started the "social media" experience. Communities gathered around campfires at night, sharing tales of their hunting exploits. Perhaps it was the best of these tales that got to be depicted on the cave walls in the only written language they had at the time: pictorial drawings.

This has evolved, so to speak, over the ages. Town squares were the hub of activity (and information) for centuries in Europe and then America. The Old West had its hoe-downs and socials, where hard-working pioneers could put down their hoes, let their hair down, and socialize a bit, as a community.

Needless to say, the pace of information sharing in the good old days was pretty slow.

Zoom forward to today, and we have Facebook. A virtual community of hundreds of millions of people with some thread of connection to each other. Instead of sketches of animals and spears, we now have words and photos. And the best part is that it's all instantaneous.

The instant nature of Facebook is both a blessing and a curse. It's easy to respond in the heat of the moment, but harder to take back what you've written.

There is also a sense of anonymity, even though your name is connected to everything you write. Perhaps "distance" is the better word. There's a sense of being protected or a few steps removed from people online, and it's easier to pick a fight (or continue a fight) from that distance. No one is going to punch you in the nose immediately for something you write on Facebook right now. That makes it easier to write words you might not say to their face. And that can be dangerous, in my opinion.

Last week a Minneapolis woman who posted what was viewed to be a threat to the Eden Valley-Watkins Schools. She had set up a fake page (instead of using her real name), which is against the rules. But this just proves that, even when we think we're anonymous, we're not. If you're online, unless you're a professional hacker, you are known and recorded and findable. Always.

Some of you may know that I "gave up" Facebook for Lent. No, we don't normally do anything like this for Lent, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The first thing I noticed, starting six weeks ago, was how much more work I was getting done in a day.

The next thing I noticed was that I didn't miss all the relationship breakups and backstabbing that goes on so much on Facebook.

I didn't miss any of the games updates, spam messages, or viral "post this on your page if you care about ___" messages either. I don't like to hear foul language, and I certainly don't want to read it (especially used by children or people who should know better than to use it in public). And I can live quite happily without seeing photos of drunken teenagers.

I often ask myself, "Did he/she forget that Facebook is public?"

I will admit: it was hard, at times, to hold back from interacting on Facebook. And some of my Facebook friends intentionally taunted me (you know who you are!). When I felt compelled to respond to something, I did so in private, by e-mail or message.

I was not cut off entirely from that world, though. I allowed myself to read what was on Facebook, just not to interact with it.

But I no longer felt compelled to read everything that had been posted since I had last checked. And I was freed from feeling I had to check it at all; I don't even notice anymore if I miss a day or two (or three).

It's now the Monday after Easter, and I haven't yet jumped back into my old Facebook habits. Haven't even looked at it yet since Saturday. I hope I never fall back into those habits. I like having more time in my day. And I enjoy having a little more control over what messages (positive or negative) go into my brain each day.

I will find my way back "on," and this six-week experiment will end. Perhaps I will use my new-found perspective to help keep Facebook a kinder, gentler place to hang out. Or, more likely, I will be an less-frequent visitor.

Meanwhile, please practice safe and civil computing out there, okay?